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Cinema Paradiso: The New Version

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For Some Sexuality - The New Version)

Running Time: 174 minutes (The New Version)/123 minutes (1990 Theatrical Version)

Starring: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio and Salvatore Cascio

Written and Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, Sneak Peeks

Specs: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (The New Version only), Italian Dolby Surround (1990 Cut only), French Dolby Surround (1990 Cut only), English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (38 Scenes - The New Version/35 Scenes - 1990 Cut)

Released: February 18th, 2003

 

 

Do you ever find yourself asking why we, as people, enjoy movies so much? I must say that I ask myself that question every now and then. While movies can take us away from the world for a few hours and entertain us, I believe that the true power of film is that it can inspire us. Like any way to tell a story, film is something that can be cultural, unique and incredibly universal. We can either leave our brains at the door for some mindless action or challenge our minds and enter deep thought as we become engrossed in a story. Despite all the different types of movies and genres, we can relate to movies and what they offer us. People want to experience love. People want to be inspired by against-the-odds stories. People want to realize life's worth through tales of sadness and woe. Movies offer us infinite possibilities that the world and what people hold.

While there have been movies about movies and movies within movies, I cannot think of better film that perfectly captures and conveys the magical experience of seeing a movie in the theater, the true power of film and what that power can do to someone than "Cinema Paradiso." This is truly a movie lover's movie, but it is also a film casual filmgoers can also enjoy (even if they're not into foreign films). The backdrop of the story is quite interesting, taking place in Italy in a more innocent and simple time where the main outlet for entertainment was through a movie theater.

"Cinema Paradiso" tells the story of Salvatore, a famous filmmaker who receives a call that urges him to go back to his Italian village, a place where he has not been back since nearly 30 years. The call takes Salvatore back, as he flashes back to his own childhood and teenage years. During this magical time, Salvatore becomes fascinated with film and strikes up a relationship with the town's theater projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). Yet as the world slowly changes, so does Salvatore's life. The ultimate irony strikes Alfredo, Salvatore falls in love and Salvatore goes out to claim his destiny... all while his love of film never dies.

Giuseppe Tornatore, in what is arguably his best known film, creates a splendid masterpiece which is impossible not to be seduced by. As I mentioned, the magic and power of film is perfectly shown here and how much we cannot resist as well as become immersed in film. Yet there is more to Tornatore's story than that. The film is all about relationships. Relationship with film yes, but more importantly, relationships with real people who do change our lives in major ways.

The heart of the film (or at least in the 1990 cut) lies within Salvatore, or, "Toto," and his relationship with Alfredo. It's such a strong bond, one that can be compared to father and son. As Toto becomes engrossed in how film works, Alfredo shows him his craft and they bond over intense life experiences yet come together through film. It is really touching and really inspiring. Another key relationship, which is the heart of the new cut, is with Alfredo and his true love Elena. It's a major part of Salvatore's drive, and really shows much emphasis on the power of true love as well as how heartbreaking it can be. The love story is sweet, and despite what many may say, is integral to the characters and the story itself. I also enjoyed the rocky relationship between Salvatore and his mother. There is love there, and I liked how toward the end of the movie his mother admits her faults, how Salvatore was good to her and that she is a lonely woman.

"Cinema Paradiso" almost feels like a fairy tale, but it is also incredibly realistic and this could have happened somehow and somewhere. Tornatore captures such a wonderful amount of lovely shots of the Italian village where much of the story takes place, and how it changes gradually over time. How much visual splendor of what seems to be a timeless place and how it decays is something marvel at. There are some just beautiful moments as far as how they are staged and how they are written. The film is perfectly paced (yes, in both versions) and is well edited, capturing so much within the images. Topping it off is the gentle, catchy and really memorable music by Ennio Morricone that perfectly accompanies the film.

There is some wonderful symbolism and just great all-around moments in the movie which just add to why it will never get old. Alfredo's story about the princess and the ninety-nine nights and how Salvatore takes it to heart and finds meaning in it as far as his true love goes does nothing but warm the soul. The burning of the first Cinema Paradiso and how the images in the projection booth and the lion head that spurts out the image also burn, it's almost as if there is a massacre of lives. The film's themes of being alone (as in Salvatore's mother and how Salvatore never truly loved again) and the power of love really do give you something to think about. But there is so much in the theme of destiny and finding yourself. The solace and serenity in the scene where Alfredo encourages Salvatore to leave the village behind, find his destiny and complete it is so simple yet so deeply effective. Oh, and who can forget the marvelous final scene?

The acting in the film is nothing short of flawless. There are three layered performances from the actors who play Salvatore. Salvatore Cascio, who plays the young version, gives a charming, sweet and innocent performance as a boy who is looking for fun, attention and learns to love movies. Marco Leonardi, who plays the teenage Salvatore, is quite enthusiastic, intense and captures that special time of being in love. There's a yearning and hopefulness that cannot be denied. Finally, Jacques Perrin as the adult Salvatore gives a heartbreaking and subdued performance that is pitch-perfect as a man who looks back at what has shaped his life and how he revisits it after a long absence.

Still, a special mention must be given to Philippe Noiret, who plays Alfredo. His performance may just be the strongest and hardest of all. He handles his character with a little bit of heartbreak yet with much sensitivity. The way he plays against the young and teenage Salvatore is seamless. His passion and wisdom of film as well as what the world holds gives strength to Salvatore and the film as a whole, as there is joy and so much life to him - even he is blind (though he is a affected in his own way). It's an energetic performance filled with vigor and true feeling.

So yes, that's "Cinema Paradiso" for you. But what makes this DVD so special and all the more intriguing (especially if you're a big fan of the movie)? That would be "The New Version" (I'm sorry, but that's a terrible subtitle), a new cut of the film that is 51 minutes longer and was released theatrically during the summer of 2002. Since this reissue did not get a wide theatrical release, there are probably many of you out there who are downright curious and probably want to watch this new cut. If you're really into the movie I encourage you to do so, but if you're a casual fan then chances are the new additions, while adding more to the love story, probably won't do much for you.

In a world where most re-releases and new editions of movies add very little footage (or none at all) and seemed more focused on upgrading to a new sound standard and restoring the picture, 51 minutes is certainly a lot of time in movie land and begs the question if those 51 minutes are really necessary. While nearly all of the critics gave "The New Version" good marks (I guess it would be hard to really mess around with a classic film), nearly all of them agreed that the original version was much better as far as how it told its story. "The New Version" also features a slightly different structure that many are sure to pick up on. Some scenes are arranged in a different order than in the 1990 cut. It doesn't ruin anything per se or changes the tone, but I found it to be slightly annoying and I questioned it. I mean, both cuts and their structures do work, but it something that makes you think as far as why it was done. Yet what I find so interesting about the two versions of "Cinema Paradiso" To be honest, I'm rather mixed in which version I do prefer since each more different than one might I assume.

Much of the extra 51 minutes makes the film change gears. There is more sexuality to it, which I found ruined some of the sweetness and more family-friendly appeal that the 1990 version had. Still, despite the little extra scene or two added on to existing portions, the real meat of the new footage is a lot of extensions on Salvatore and Elena. I personally did like these new scenes, as Salvatore's love and devotion is further shown as far as capturing the girl of his dreams and what exactly happens between them as they meet up again around 30 years later. While it is quite intriguing and certainly captures a lot more emotion, a lot of the mystique the original cut offered is ruined and it also changes some perceptions about some of the characters. It does give a lot more closure to the story, but with that in mind, the last act of the film changes the whole movie entirely. While the narrative stays the same, they feel like two totally different movies as the new cut seems to make Salvatore's relationship with the theater and Alfredo a bit secondary.

With that in mind, the 1990 theatrical cut is definitely more lean, moves at a better pace and feels a bit lighter and more sweet in nature. It does convey an awful lot about Salvatore, and I think it gives you more to reflect on. "The New Version," however, feels a bit heavier and slows down a lot of the dynamics with the scene additions. I don't think that is a bad thing since these scenes are entertaining and adds more to the characters (actually, the love story is now more inspiring I think), but there a lot more ground is covered as far as Salvatore and Elena's relationship goes and the film's focus gradually fades away and then comes back. Believe it or not, "The New Version" gave me different emotions than the ones I felt in the shorter cut, probably because the new version drags itself out and like I said, gives a somewhat different focus. I found it less haunting than the shorter cut, yet at the same time, I was enthralled that there was more to such a wonderful story.

There's no denying that "Cinema Paradiso" is a great film and is truly a classic that must be cherished. It is a very touching story about the different kinds of love, friendships and relationships that do shape us and our destinies. There will be a lot of you who are sure to prefer the original cut of the movie more than this new version, but I am sure that a lot of you will get more satisfaction and will be just as enthralled as I was with what has been added. The extra 51 minutes do not make "Cinema Paradiso" a worse movie or even a more boring movie. It just makes it a different kind of movie, one that either may lose the intention the original gave out or may add more to the original that was missing.

With that said, I don't think that the new footage could be done justice in a separate context (a la a section on the DVD for deleted scenes) and I believe that a new cut of the film was necessary to show these scenes. While there is divided opinion on the new additions and if a re-release of the movie was really necessary (maybe this new cut was an excuse just to reveal these scenes), "Cinema Paradiso" is a film that will always be worth revisiting because of its lovely characters, timeless themes and a tribute to the power of film. But now you can see more of such an amazing movie and judge for yourself which version is better - as well as which one you will want to revisit again and again.

 

Each version of the movie is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and both look pretty good but both are also slightly disappointing. Despite "The New Version" being digitally remastered, the scenes in the new cut and old cut look pretty much the same. Detail (especially in the exterior shots of the Italian village), color saturation and fleshtones look pretty good. The film looks a bit too soft on both versions, but at times the image can be rather sharp. Still, the major problem I had with the transfers are that they are covered in nicks, blemishes, dirt pieces and other little annoyances. They appear often and do get in the way mostly, which is a shame. You'd think they'd clean it up a bit better, but no. With that in mind though, the new scenes in "The New Version" do look slightly better and fresh... which would make sense. The picture is fine and is bearable, but it really deserved better.

 

The audio options, sadly, are different on each version. I'll start with the slightly better sound mix, that being on "The New Version." Yep, the longer cut gets a pretty decent Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which is quite atmospheric, but is downright pitiful in the lack of surrounds. The mix gives the wonderful score more room and life to breath through, and as a result, it sounds more crisp and clear. Other than that, there is a rare surround effect and the .1 LFE doesn't add up to much. The lack of surrounds is disappointing, especially since there are some nice opportunities to add some life (a la the major fire scene). Still, the dialogue and music sound much clearer. It is a major improvement over the Italian Dolby Surround track on the original version, which is audible but sounds pretty faded. Nonetheless, both of the main tracks work for each version, and each feature English closed captions and English subtitles. There is also a French Dolby Surround track on the original cut.

 

Sadly and given that this is a "Miramax Classic," there's not much. You get the Theatrical Trailer for the new version in full frame (bah!) and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, as well as several Sneak Peeks: "Malena," "The Star Maker" and Amélie. The first two are from "Cinema Paradiso" writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore. Each of these previews are in full frame and Dolby Digital 5.1 as well.

The front cover also states the original 1990 theatrical cut as an "extra bonus," and I'll give points to that - especially since I was not expecting it to be included on this release. This is a very wise move by Disney (even if the original version has been released on DVD before), so if you're that inclined you can compare the two versions and for you purists, you get the original version that touched so many hearts. Side A has "The New Version" and Side B has the original version.

 

"Cinema Paradiso" is surely a masterpiece and is certainly worthy of every single piece of praise that it receives. With that in mind, "The New Version" is certainly bound to drawn criticism from its loyal fans as the film's resolution is much different than in the original cut, but I am sure some of those fans will appreciate the extra weight to the arc of the story. Still, it offers a satisfying glimpse of what inspired Toto's drive and his life's meaning in general. The DVD is worth it just to see this new cut, but thankfully offers the original version as well. While I would have appreciated some real supplements, better audio and improved picture, this is a DVD that belongs in any true collection. Hopefully in the near future, some of these "Miramax Classics" will have real extras (though none of the DVDs in the line had any to begin with - those that do extras are probably worthy of the "Collector's Series" title).

 

(both versions)